In May of last year, a five-unit 767-300F order surfaced on Boeing’s order book from an “unidentified customer.” Cargo Facts has learned that China Central Longhao Airlines is behind the order.
For Longhao Airlines, the five factory-built freighters would be part of an ambitious plan to add to its fleet both narrowbody and widebody freighters, and to satisfy a long-term goal of its parent organization, Henan Civil Aviation Development Investment (HNCA), to build a formidable cargo carrier based out of the province’s capital airport, Zhengzhou (CGO).
A source familiar with the airline’s plans told Cargo Facts it expects 767-300Fs deliveries from Boeing to commence later this year and continue into the first quarter of 2022. Boeing did not respond to a request for comment.
Once the 767-300Fs are active in its fleet, Longhao will become the first operator of production 767-300Fs in China. Precise routes and commercial activities are not yet defined, though the airline expects to utilize the freighters for charter flights, or on behalf of e-tailers. Last year, Longhao began operating 737-300F charter flights on behalf of JD Logistics, the logistics arm of e-tailer JD.com.
Longhao’s parent, state-owned HNCA, has invested in a variety of aerospace and logistics companies, with its most high-profile international investment being the 35% stake it took in Luxembourg-based Cargolux back in 2014. Plans had initially called for a joint venture carrier to be based out of CGO. Although links between Luxembourg Airport (LUX) and CGO have increased significantly, a joint-venture carrier has yet to launch. When HNCA took a controlling interest in the air subsidiary of Guangdong-based Longhao Aviation Group in 2019, it referred to its acquisition of Longhao in a press release as an alternative path to forming a Henan-based cargo airline.
The growing carrier has since transitioned its operation to focus around a dual-hub strategy with flights out of its previous base at Guangzhou (CAN) and, increasingly, at CGO as well.
In addition to the 767-300Fs, Longhao plans to add up to twelve large-widebody freighters, including 747Fs and 777Fs and intends to grow its 737-800F fleet to twelve units. The first 747 freighters could join the fleet as soon as this year, while 777Fs would be added at a later point, according to the source. There are very few 747 freighters available on the market, and Longhao has not yet identified the airframes it has its sights set on. Although no formal cooperation between all-747F operator Cargolux and Longhao currently exists, neither HNCA nor Longhao have ruled out that possibility.
Returning to Longhao’s narrowbody plans, the carrier now operates two 737-800BCFs, one on lease each from BBAM and GECAS. A third 737-800BCF (33819, ex-AndoluJet) was recently converted by Boeing at the STAECO facility in Jinan (TNA) and will be added to the fleet shortly. Guo Jianye, chairman of Central Longhao Airlines, told delegates at an Air Silk Road Summit earlier this year that incoming 737-800Fs would primarily be utilized on routes extending to Southeast Asia.
Longhao is targeting the addition of two more 737-800Fs for a total of five by yearend and has not yet finalized leasing agreements for the fourth and fifth units, according to the source. Both GECAS and BBAM have additional orders and options for 737-800BCF conversions, and 737-800s converted by other STCs are also available. As of its April edition, Airfax lists four 737-800SFs coming out of conversion in Q2 and Q3 that are available for sale or lease. For now, Longhao also continues to operate five 737-300Fs and a single 737-400F.
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